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What it Really Means to Be a Data-Driven District–and How to Make it Happen

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July 11th, 2019

A simple internet search for “data-driven instruction” yields over 70 million hits. Clearly, the concept is neither new nor novel.

But that wealth of information is accompanied by a wealth of research showing that educators’ ability to actually use data to guide instructional decisions is still lacking. How can that be?

While sifting through those search results, I realized something: Just about every article focuses on why data-based instruction is important, but we are lacking significant research or insights about what that really means and how to make it happen in real classrooms with real students.

It’s time to push the conversation to the next level and help educators do something with their data.

Data-Driven Doesn’t Just Happen

As esteemed engineer and author William Edwards Deming put it, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”

Fortunately, we live in a world and work in a field that is rich in data. From assessments to demographics to behavior to attendance to social emotional data, we collect more information than ever before. But of course, those data are only as good as what is done with them.

To that end, being “data-driven” is not just a characteristic that some districts naturally have and others don’t. It’s a system that must be deliberately set into motion and carefully sustained.

After years of observing districts and working with educators across the country, here’s what I know it takes to be a truly data-driven district.

3 Steps to Turning into a District that Uses Data to Guide Instructional Decisions

1. Access to the right data, at the right time.

This may seem obvious, but according to a recent policy review from the Data Quality Campaign, data are not currently as accessible–or usable–for educators as they need to be in order for them to actually spur student achievement.

In many districts, data exist primarily in static reports that become outdated and inaccurate almost immediately. What’s worse is that the data that districts do have are rarely shared because they’re relevant for only one group, like district-level administrators, for example.

To be data-driven, all stakeholders, from support staff to superintendents, must have the tools they need to access the right data, at the right time, in the right format. That means we have to look beyond basic dashboards for role-based, customizable reports that enable educators to visualize and make sense of the data that matter most to them.

2. The ability to have “whole student” data in one place.

The amount of data available to districts is not, and really never has been, the issue. The problem is that data are all stuck in disparate systems. In recent years, student information systems have helped to pull together some key data points, like attendance, course grades, and demographics. But even still, those systems tell us only part of a student’s story and don’t provide the level of analytics and type of reporting needed to actually generate meaningful insights–let alone take action.

Data-driven districts do it differently. They find a way to pull all available data out of single silos to see the whole student and acquire systems that empower them to go beyond static spreadsheets and make meaning of the data. What’s more, they ensure these systems fit into educators’ daily workflows, as opposed to being an additional, disconnected task.

3. Creation of a data culture.

Once systems are in place for their educators to access data and generate comprehensive, dynamic reports, it’s critical that districts focus on cultivating a clear vision that everyone shares. According to Carl Anderson, author of Creating a Data-Driven Culture, that means making a collective commitment to using data-driven decision-making processes.

Likewise, data-driven decision-making can’t happen in isolation. Analyzing data should be a concerted effort in which educators at all levels can collaborate to make meaning and take action.

Illuminate Education is supporting districts nationwide in becoming data-driven by making the right data actionable to the right people at the right time. Check out a few of our recent case studies learn more:


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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1 Comment

  1. Patonia Bell on July 24, 2019 at 11:59 am

    My name is Patonia Bell and I would like to know more about your data scoreboards. Please contact me.

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